Sunday

New standards of revue 2

A few posts ago (about 18 months (at time of writing, many more have passed) I wrote about new ways of looking at reviewing; so i might give a numerator as well as a denominator, to reflect the scope of the art i was reviewing, so that we could give a small mobile game 2/2, which sounds good but limited, compared to giving a terrible film 2/10.

I've a couple more here.

The first is a biggy and has been playing on my mind for awhile; it came up in conversation today when I thought everyone knew I used it, and it involves moving out of just one dimension of quality.

When I'm evaluating something, I've noticed there tends to be three dimensions I judge it on. These are Quality, Fun, and Novelty; and by separating them out, wecan be more precise about exactly where things succeed and where they try to succeed.


This three-mark way of looking at art was inspired by 'school of saatchi', which for its faults, tried to grade different artworks by looking at three criteria, which I cannot find the exact wordings of, but I belive to be technique, originality, and emotional impact. I've adapted them.

Note that I'm not suggesting everything has to have all of these elements every time, but if it doesn't have any, then what you have is simply filler. Something that's only good for dodging the void with.

Quality sounds straightforward, but we need to be careful what elements fall under it; it's a purely technical achievement. So quality is a matter of technique; it's craft, not art, and should be quite objective to measure. Quality is the difference between a record sounding like a demo, and sounding polished and professional. It doesn't affect the content. So beyond just looking professional, this aspect deals with how proficient the craftsmanship, and how many technical skills are on display.

Of course, there can be many dimensions to this; early Billy Bragg recordings are very lo-fi, and 'The milkman of human kindness' wouldn't be improved by adding a 4-minute shredding solo, but they're still well-crafted songs, that are professionally performed. That might unravel this whole sytem, I'm not sure.

Next, how fun is the work?
Is 'fun' subective? It might sound like it, but I think you can quantify the fun in something.
It's not just how many laughs are in a work, but I think it's analogous to how much love the work was made with. This is why I find Bal-sagoth fun, even though they make their music with po-faced seriousness. You can usually spot fun as 'how much fun do the people creating it appear to be having?' An injection of fun should never take away from an overall serious piece; The Wire (more on that later) has elements of humour, without which it would be unbearable. A smattering of humour, of clear love for subject matter, can get you to carry


lastly, how interesting is the work?
Interesting comes in a number of names. Shannon called it 'information' and defined it as how predictable a message is - in other words, what were the chances of sending that exact message?
For me, this is the difference between Art and Craft. Craft is all about technique, about predictability, reproducability. It should do the same thing every time. Building a piano is a craft. Writing a song on a piano is an art, because there's no point in writing the same song twice.

This is exactly why some music, some film, some games, definitely are craft more than art. I've danced to music for half an hour that went nowhere; every bar was the same as the last, and there was no information in the music after the first 10 seconds. That's fine if that's what you want, but its not art, its a workout. Compare this to a well-worked track like, i dunno, 'Sidewalk Serfer girl' by Super furry animals, where every single bar sounds different; every reprise has something different in its production, and you can tell exactly where you are in the song just by hearing one fragment.

Free Jazz has a problem with this, because while like white noise, it is inherently unpredictable, it can end up sounding samey. Even though noise is random on a bit-by-bit basis, it is entirely predictable on a second-by-second basis. So this one might depend on your expertise. And of course, recontextualising something can be an interesting thing to do. that depends on how it is done.


Interestingness is what T. McKenna would have called 'novelty'. How new, how much rich information, how radical, original is the message? These are the works that stick in your head, the ones that change direction or surprise you. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Ephel Duath's 'the passage'; from the first notes, it did not sound like anything else on the sampler I was listening to, or anything else I'd heard before.

I think this interestingness is what I meant by the 'fuckin ell' test I wrote about last time. So an emotional reaction is also a mark of being interesting.  I mentioned fun, but emotions

The Wire ticks all the boxes like nothing else.

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Another way of looking at culture: A test.

I had a conversation with a friend some years ago, about (i think) the film 'chronicle': the end result was we wished we'd just watched 'Primer' again.

Today I am faced with the same problem: Do I watch Gilliam's 'Zero Theorem' for the first time, or his classic 'Brazil' for the maybe 5th time? Should I watch 'The Fog', or 'Wild Zero' for the 3rd time?

In this age of having the choice to program our own entertainment, would I get more out of watching a rich, well-loved classic again, and reliving it, or injecting a new and different work?

In the bit above where I talked about the novelty, or interestingness, of a work as one of three strands to its success, it not be obvious that some works are rich enough to give more information on subsequent viewings (for instance), than others on their first view.

This is something you can only know in retrospect. Like the "fuckin' 'ell!" test, it's worth just checking after you've experienced something.

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